Beth Heinly transported the first batch of more than a hundred zines by bike. She packed the small, hand-made booklets into two tote bags, slung them over her shoulder and sped through city streets to Paley Library.
“It was a high-tech operation,” the 23-year-old comic and performance artist said.
The zines were to be archived in Temple’s Special Collections Research Center, located on the ground floor of Paley, where the university collects and preserves rare books, manuscripts, archives and records.
Zines are independently produced serial publications typically made by artists. The low-tech, low-budget books are often created for the purpose of circulation within an artistic, literary or fan-based community.
“[Zines] don’t just tell stories, they sort of describe, sometimes on a very personal level, cultural things that are happening, social things that are happening at the time,” said Jill Luedke, a Paley art librarian. “You can often talk about things in zines that don’t often get published on a large scale or in a major publication.
“It’s a way to learn about people and things,” she added.
Roughly 280 zines from the Little Berlin Zine Library will be added to an already expanding collection at Paley, making Temple home to the second-largest zine collection in Philadelphia, only behind The Soapbox, an independent publishing hub in West Philadelphia.
Temple librarians said they are currently trying to find a balance between distributing the zines and archiving them for cultural preservation and future use.
“There’s a really interesting tension between the desire to have [zines] accessible to people, but also the desire to have them survive or be preserved,” Margery Sly, the director of Temple’s Special Collections, said. Heinly, who began collecting and producing zines in high school, founded the Little Berlin Zine Library, previously held at Little Berlin, an artist-run collective and gallery space in Kensington.
Heinly became concerned with zine preservation issues after noticing some of the zines had collected mildew and mold or were vandalized or removed by visitors.
“Zines and artists’ books are a great way to collect people’s work without spending tons of money,” Heinly said. “But first off, with zines, they fall apart a lot easier. It’s just good to get a little more life out of them, to have them archived properly.”
Luedke said zines offer a rare “unedited narrative” of contemporary culture.
“There’s also like this whole kind of counter-culture documentation that the zines represent,” Heinly said. “I think it’s important to archive that so people see these message in the future – they’re a part of history.”
Luedke recommended Heinly move the collection to Paley when the two met at the 2013 Philly Zine Fest.
Sly said Paley Special Collections has been collecting items of contemporary culture for several decades, including science-fiction fan zines, comic books and artists’ books. Luedke started archiving zines more actively in 2011.
The library places an emphasis on zines created by local artists. Sly said faculty members occasionally bring classes to Paley to examine the collection.
“We’ve had faculty seriously wanting to use them for the past three years,” Sly said. “A lot of them are younger faculty, adjunct members, so I think they’re aware of what’s going on in the art scene and have made the connection to zines.”
Sly and Luedke encourage students to add their own zines to the collection. “I don’t think we’ve ever turned away a zine,” Luedke said
Because zines are independently made and often created as works of art in themselves, Luedke and Sly said archiving the booklets has been difficult.
“I’m torn because on one hand I want to make sure we document this aspect of contemporary culture, but on the other hand, they are sort of designed to be free, you know, to roam freely,” Sly said.
Even so, Sly and Luedke plan to continue archiving zines, they said.
“There are guidelines for archiving – for zines the guidelines can be bent a bit,” Luedke said.
All students and staff can visit the Special Collections Research Department, located in Paley Room 6, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Claire Sasko can be reached at Claire Sasko email@example.com